It is not often that environmental disasters have such visibly immediate effects. Climate change, for example, seems so far away partly because there are no glaciers thunderously calving to observe here in the United Kingdom. This human need for visual comprehension is expertly manipulated by the newspapers – how often do you decide to read an article because the headline ‘looks’ good? Whilst an understandable reaction, as our 24-hour news society feeds us with hordes of information which we somehow have to process, but in this culture it is sometimes imperative that ‘old news’ is revisited and re-assessed.
Take for instance the Deepwater Horizon spill: the first oil ‘spill’ to occur underwater has resulted in the deaths of 11 people, many more wildlife and birds, and will have long term effects that we cannot even begin to comprehend.
For the past four months there has been a lot of hand-wringing and much earnest conversation about the ramifications, both political and ecological. However, it seems likely as with a lot of news, that in a few months we will have forgotten all about it. Sometimes sweeping headlines under the rug is desirable, the humans involved in the various ‘news’ stories that grace (or tarnish) our daily pages shouldn’t always be printed on them in the first place. At other times, where loss is involved, the press should give time and space to allow private mourning.
But this is a news story that should be treated as much more than column fodder. The full ecological impact is not yet known and still cannot be calculated. The science of oil spills is based largely on previous ones and since Deepwater is the first of its kind, predictions are hazy and hard to make.
As the oil leak is cautiously brought under control it is essential that we, the press as much as the public, do not forget what a colossal mistake this was – and I’m not talking about the inevitable petty finger-pointing and back-covering that has occured and will continue. The political effects have been considerable and certainly have hampered our fast waning ‘special relationship’ with the United States, but these are ultimately insignificant compared to the environmental problems we are yet to deal with.
The spill should never have happened. But now that it has, the pressure must be kept up to ensure justice is served and equally importantly, seen to be served. News outlets have the biggest role in this. Knowledge is power and with power comes responsibility, a truth that must ring home for news reporters as much as for readers. Reporters have a duty to ensure this spill and its environmental impact do not become just another news story. Quite the opposite, infact: to do this story justice, Deepwater must not be forgotten.